Clear the Clutter: Best summer Yard Sale Tips:

When you want to clear the clutter, hold a yard sale. Here are some foolproof ways to make the most of your weekend sale:

Socialize: Post on Facebook the Sunday before your Saturday sale. Post again the day before and the morning of, and ask your friends to share these posts too. If your community has a special Facebook page for yard or garage sales, join to post there as well.

Promote: Post flyers printed on brightly colored paper to promote your sale. Use a giant font with the date, street name, and "Yard Sale." Want a ton of traffic? On that morning, place multiple neon signs leading to your house spaced out that say: "Yard Sale 500 Feet" – "Yard Sale 100 Feet" – "Yard Sale Next Right" – "Yard Sale Turn Here" and "Yard Sale – Go back!"

Simplify: Price items in round numbers and use colored stickers to denote the price of items: $1 items - green, $5 items - blue, $10 items - yellow, etc.

Watch out for this mortgage scam

Mortgage scammers, according to the Better Business Bureau, are baiting people who have not yet refinanced with promises of super low interest rates. This scam uses email, phone calls, and even printed flyers, promising savings of hundreds of dollars a month.

The BBB says here's the catch: The 'company,' which often uses a name that is similar to a major financial institution or bank to sound legitimate, requires you to pay an upfront fee to "lock in your interest rate" before you officially apply. The fee can be up to thousands of dollars! Once you make the payment, the company disappears, and so does your money.

The best advice: Use a local lender you know and trust. No legitimate lender is going to make you pay anything before you complete a loan application.

Why you Should not pay off your mortgage

Paying off your mortgage early sounds like a great idea. But could it be a mistake? Financial experts argue that with low interest rates, paying off a mortgage early for most people is not the best strategy.

Greg McBride at Bankrate.com told online financial resource TheStreet that when you factor in both inflation and tax deductibility, "you're basically borrowing money for free." He suggests that if you are going to pay off your mortgage early, make sure it's the last thing that you do.

Experts explain that you should pay off all high-interest credit cards, build up six months of living expenses for emergency savings, contribute to your kids' college funds, and max out your own retirement contributions before you prepay your home mortgage.

"The longer you save for retirement," McBride says, "the better off you'll be."

The one thing you need to know before you refinance

Are you considering refinancing into a mortgage with a lower interest rate because it will reduce your monthly payment by $100 or more? You may save thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

However, you need to do this one exercise before you refinance: You need to factor in how many payments are left on your current home loan. If you don't, a new loan with a lower interest rate might actually cost you more. 

To double-check if you'll actually save money, total your payments left on your current mortgage, then compare this against your new total payments. Keep in mind that this comparison assumes you'll stay in a home for 30 years. For those who plan to stay in their homes, this is an important calculation and one many people forget.

How can every homeowner prepare for an emergency?

Wherever you live, being prepared for a potential natural disaster can help protect your home and your family. Here are 3 things every homeowner should have for an emergency:

A Plan – You need a plan for a potential natural disaster. What are the escape routes? Where are the safe places – a closet, the bathtub, or a storm cellar? What happens if you and your family are separated – where is your designated meeting site?

A Checklist – Creating a list of things you will need for before, during, and after a natural disaster is vital. The U.S. government provides checklists you can use, which are available at https://www.ready.gov/emergency-planning-checklists.

An Emergency Kit – You can compile your own, or you can purchase an Emergency Food Kit at stores like Costco. You will need water (one gallon per-person, per-day), a first aid kit, flashlights with extra batteries, and emergency cash.

How does a Home Warranty Program work?

A home warranty program protects your home by replacing or repairing items that are not covered by your homeowners insurance. When a home's mechanical systems fail – such as the central air conditioning or heating system – or major appliances break down, a home warranty limits your maximum out-of-pocket expenses for each repair.

When a breakdown occurs, you simply contact the home warranty firm and they contract a local services firm. The local services firm will arrange an appointment to provide either a repair or replacement. 

There are two payment components to a home warranty protection plan: an annual flat fee (differs by state, but ranges from $300 to $500 a year), plus a small service fee (typically about $75-$125) for each reported repair. Home warranty plans and their coverage will differ, so read the contract terms carefully to avoid future surprises.

Avoid this mistake before filing a homeowners insurance claim

If you're going to file a homeowners insurance claim, be certain that you really want to file before you call your insurance company. Why? Because when you simply contact some insurance companies to ask how your policy covers a potential claim, that call may be documented as actually making a claim, reports the American Association of Retired People. 

The potential negative impact of merely making an inquiry: higher insurance rates. And not just with your insurance firm, but others. A central database called CLUE - or Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange - shares your insurance track record with other insurance providers. 

An Insurance Industry Institute spokesperson told AARP, "However, some companies treat all inquiries as reportable because from their perspective, you typically don't call with a hypothetical question." They recommend that homeowners talk to their insurance agent or company to find out their policy on claim inquiries.

4 Things your home insurance wont cover

Homeowners insurance is designed to cover damage caused by disasters, such as wind, hail, fire, lighting, and cold weather that freezes plumbing or other major household systems. It also protects you from theft and vandalism, civil commotions or riots, and falling objects, as well as from liability for others who are injured on your property.

Here are 4 big things that a standard homeowners insurance policy won't cover:

Floods
A Bankrate survey found that 81% of homeowners did not know their home was not protected from a flood by a regular homeowner insurance policy.

Sewer backups
If your sewer backs up, it can do some serious damage to your floors and furniture, and even walls and electrical systems. Only extra insurance will typically cover this incident.

Jewelry/Fine art
The value of your diamond engagement ring or your family's fine art heirloom may exceed a maximum limit found in most standard policies. You can add an insurance rider that specifically covers these items.

Trampoline accidents
The risk is great: More than 80,000 trampoline accidents are reported annually, and neck and head injuries account for 10-17% of all injuries. You'll most likely need a separate rider, but beware that some insurance firms will refuse to insure a home if there's a trampoline on the premises. It's best to talk to your insurance provider first.

Be sure to contact your insurance company or agent to make sure you understand what is covered and what is not, as well as your options for additional protection.

What is considered an "Act of God"?

An "Act of God" is legally defined as "an event that directly and exclusively results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution," or in other words, an inevitable accident. 

Acts of God include harsh windstorms, snowstorms, hail, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and floods. Homeowners' insurance policies can exclude damage caused by some Acts of God.

But what is considered an Act of God isn't always crystal clear. Fires are one example: An accidental home fire is not considered an Act of God, but a fire caused by a lightning strike is. 

So is your home covered by Acts of God? The answer is: It depends. The policy you purchased will show specifically what's covered and what's excluded. Your policy will likely refer to risks as "perils" and not Acts of God. Your best bet is to meet with your insurance rep and ask, because unless you have additional riders, damage from floods or earthquakes, for example, won't be covered.

Air ducts: A need-to-know tip for homeowners

We all love to save money, especially when it's earth-friendly. Air ducts are a great place to start for homes with forced-air heating or cooling systems. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that duct leaks account for as much as 30% of a home's heating and cooling consumption. 

How can you tell if your home's air ducts are leaking? Signs include:

- Your summer and winter utility bills are higher compared to neighbors with similar home and family sizes.

- You have rooms that are more difficult to heat and cool than others.

- You have stuffy rooms that never seem to feel comfortable.

- You have to change your air filters more frequently, as extra debris clogs filters.

Best bet: Have your ducts cleaned and serviced to start saving energy (and money).

Controlling your thermostat while you travel

Smart technology is becoming commonplace in the home. One of the best investments you can make is a new Wi-Fi-enabled smart thermostat. The most popular one is Nest, but there are others from Honeywell, Carrier, Ecobee and more.  All of these thermostats can be programmed remotely with your smartphone using an app. That means you can check in on the internal temperature of your home while you are traveling and instantly change the temperature settings and more. While the cost may seem high – with most priced just below $250 – the energy savings they provide can easily pay back your investment within an average of just 2 years.

Prepping a home before heading out on vacation

If you're heading somewhere else for the summer months, here are a few tips to leave your home alone worry-free:

  • Safety: Besides stopping the mail and newspaper deliveries, add a motion-sensor light to your backyard and put a timer on an indoor lamp to help make the house seem occupied.
  • Put plants in the bathtub: If your bathroom has good sunlight, fill your tub with a few inches of water and let your plants water themselves.
  • Clean, clean, clean: You'll avoid pests by leaving your home super clean with all the trash removed. Make sure your fireplace flue is closed so critters don't find their way in.

Get a little help: Have a neighbor keep an eye on your place and give them your contact info. Have them check inside occasionally to make sure everything is where it should be.

3 pro tips for working with holiday lights

Holiday lights add luster to the winter season and help promote the holiday spirit. Here are three pro tips for working with holiday lights:

Start early: Don't wait until the weather turns wet, icy, or cold. It's easier and safer to work when the weather is mild. Even if you don't hang your lights yet, you can prep: Install hooks and hangers and run extension cords now.

Create a map: Create a to-scale map with your home's measurements to figure out how many light strands and extension cords you'll need for each area. This will save you time next year as well if you use the same display.

Go all LED: Today's LED holiday lights are brighter, longer lasting and more energy efficient. Plus, you're less likely to blow a fuse since you can run many strands end-to-end.

Home, safe home: Holiday decorating safety tips

The holiday season is known for more than setting record sales; it's also known for an increase in hospital visits. Holiday decorating sends 200 people a day to emergency rooms. You can avoid the stitches, slings and burns by following these steps from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Tree ornaments: Hang the breakable ones out of the reach of children, and avoid trimmings that resemble treats if you have little ones.

Candles: Always keep burning candles in sight, and away from places where they can be knocked over or set items on fire.

Check fresh-cut trees: You can prevent a tree fire by checking for freshness. Pull on the needles – they should not easily come off your hand, and the branches should not break when they bend.

A great life hack that will save your kids time this fall

Life gets a little hectic when kids go back to school. One of the biggest challenges high school students face is learning their new class schedule. It takes time for them to get it all down, especially in the first few days. If you know students who bring their smartphones to school, share this hack with them: Take a picture of their class schedule with the times and classroom numbers and save it as a main image on their lock screens. That way, they'll have their new class schedule handy at all times!

Time zone anomalies: Not everyone springs forward

We have all learned the phrase "Spring forward, fall back" to remind ourselves twice a year to turn our clocks ahead or back one hour. But did you know that not all states make the switch? Hawaii and most of Arizona do not observe Daylight Saving Time.  To add to the confusion, 13 states in the U.S. have two time zones. Tennessee, Kentucky and South Dakota are nearly divided in half with two time zones. That means when you drive from Nashville to Chattanooga, if you leave at 9 am, you'll arrive at 10 am, even though it's a two-hour drive.